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Overcoming the jargon barrier

15 July 2014
Assuming patients, even medically qualified ones, understand all the terms we use in dentistry can be hazardous. Making sure they understand what you’re talking about is paramount...

A dentist in general practice received a letter of complaint from a local medical practitioner. She had been providing treatment for the doctor for a number of years and the dentist/patient relationship had always been cordial.

Unfortunately, this medical colleague’s attention to oral hygiene was not always as good as it might be and it soon became obvious to the member that gingival surgery would be required in order to deal with a persistent periodontal problem. The treatment was discussed in the surgery and a brief treatment plan and an estimate were provided. The treatment was subsequently carried out without incident.

The patient did not return for any further treatment at the practice, having transferred to another practice closer to his own surgery. Approximately three years after the last course of treatment, a letter was received from the patient complaining he had never been informed that he had periodontal disease and he was now facing a fairly hefty bill from a specialist for extensive treatment to deal with the problem.


Following Dental Protection’s advice, a full letter of explanation was provided for the patient, clearly outlining the treatment that had been provided during his time with the practice and why it had been necessary. Copies of the dental records were also sent to the patient, together with copies of the various treatment plans and estimates.

A week or so later a further letter was received. Quite surprisingly, rather than continuing to maintain the complaint, the doctor had written an extremely apologetic letter indicating his embarrassment at not having understood the various dental terms that had been used. He thanked the dentist for her letter of explanation and offered his most sincere apologies for the worry and inconvenience he had cause.

Learning points:
 •This case demonstrates how little patients understand about the treatment we provide.
 • While it might be considered quite normal to use dental ‘jargon’ with one of our       medical  colleagues, assumptions can be wrong.
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These case studies are based on real events and provided here as guidance. They do not constitute legal advice but are published to help members better understand how they might deal with certain situations. This is just one of the many benefits Dental Protection members enjoy as part of their subscription. 
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